Towards Nuclear Disarmament in NE Asia: Japan an Obstacle?


Talking Notes for the Shanghai Workshop:

A Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone and Missile Control in Northeast Asia

July 16 – 18, 2004

Takao Takahara, Professor, PRIME, Meijigakuin University



     Northeast Asia is a unique place in nuclear history.  It was the stage of the first nuclear attacks that humanity ever experienced.  Tragedies of the two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are remembered with the appeal that the world must totally ban these indiscriminate and cruel weapons of mass destruction and genocide; namely that there shall be no more Hiroshimas anywhere in the world.


     But as we all know, the ban did not materialize.  On the contrary, it was again in this region that the use of the bomb was contemplated more than once.  First it was during the Korean War, and then during the crisis in the Taiwan Strait.


In this region three "nuclear weapon states" face each other.  A living expression of tragic legacy of the Cold War, namely the division of the Korean people, still remains at the center of the region.  New hope for reconciliation and eventual reunification filled our hearts in 2000 at the time of the historic North-South Summit Meeting.  Current crisis, however, was precipitated in 2002, a month after another conciliatory development between North Korea and Japan, namely a visit by the Japanese Prime Minister to Pyongyang.  The crisis has all to do with nuclear weapons.


     In order to halt and reverse the nuclear arms race and horizontal proliferation, nations have worked through these decades to establish treaties and regimes for nuclear arms control and disarmament.  Next year, which is the 60th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the 50th anniversary of the  Russell-Einstein Manifesto, the review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is to take place in May.


     I believe all of us are concerned that this yearfs Preparatory Committee for the NPT Review Conference ended in confusion and could not produce substantial recommendations.  In my understanding, those nuclear weapon states were responsible for this outcome, who see the treaty as primarily binding non-nuclear- weapon states.  They focus on the noncompliance of states such as Iran, Libya and North Korea, and do not see their obligation under the article VI as important.


     The claims of these nuclear weapon states are difficult to accept, all the more because of the policies of the sole superpower after the end of the Cold War, whose noncompliance with international agreements have become quite conspicuous under the current Administration.  It justified the bombing of Afghanistan as an act of self-defense.  It not only emphasized the importance of retaining nuclear arsenal for the defense of the United States, but also provocatively listed several nations, namely China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria, as nations against whom use of nuclear weapons is considered. (NPR, December 2001)  It declared that preemption and unilateral action could be justified in the overall war against terrorism. (Report of the Secretary of Defense, September 2002, and other official documents)  An outright invasion of Iraq has also been justified with the doctrine of self-defense and preemptive attack.  This kind of unilateralism has undermined the rule of law in international society and deviated our attention from pressing world problems that need to be addressed; nuclear disarmament being one of them.


     In this context, the leadership displayed by China to host the so-called 6-party talks deserves high praise.  Contrary to unilateralism, China took initiative to bring in a new multilateral framework for regional security in an inoffensive manner.  This kind of multilateralism had long been sought for in this region, and hope accumulates to develop the talks into a more permanent system.


   As is often pointed out, "the significance of the six-party talks does not lie just in the peaceful conclusion of the so-called problem of north Korean nuclear weapons development programme, but in laying the cornerstone for the dismantling of the Cold-War system that has been erected over the Korean Peninsula and the removal of the instability that has plagued northeast Asia." (quote from a South Korean website)


     Will we be able to persuade our governments to proceed further from the 6-party talks, to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in this region, and to adopt an alternative to the current MD program?


In the following, I would like to draw your attention to one aspect of the problem, which is the policy of GOJ against providing gnegative security assurances,h for it could prove to be one of the major obstacles to establishing nuclear-weapon-free zone in Northeast Asia.


     It was in September 1994 when the American negotiators were working towards the Framework Agreement that they were literally gtaken abackh by the comments from a high Japanese official in the Foreign Ministry (Garlucci, Wit and Poneman, Going Critical, p.291).  This was about the proposed security assurance for Pyongyang.  "In exchange for giving up its nuclear program, North Korea wanted assurance that the United States would not attack it with nuclear weapons.  The Americans were willing to provide such an assurance, as they had earlier done as part of the arrangement to persuade Ukraine to give up the nuclear weapons left on its soil in the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union.h


  The high official gwas concerned that the proposed security assurance for Pyongyang would adversely affect his country's securitycSpecifically, Tokyo worried that the draft omitted the precondition that North Korea had to be an NPT member ein good standingf and that it would not apply if the assured party attacked another state ewith or in alliance withf a nuclear weapon state.  These omissions could be construed by Pyongyang to assert legal protection against U.S. nuclear attack, even if it continued to defy the NPT and even if it attacked Japan in alliance with Russia and China.h  To the Americans, it came as a surprise ghow concerned the Japanese were over these highly unlikely events.h


     This thinking persists in certain quarters of GOJ.  Last year a couple of Japanese newsmedia reported similar stories behind the first 6-party talks.  According to one article (Yomiuri Shimbun, August 22, 2003), a high Japanese official requested the Americans not to give North Korea an assurance that the United States will not attack them with nuclear weapons.  The alternative promises proposed by the Japanese was firstly, that there will be no aggression, and secondly that there will be no use of force against North Korea that UN Charter forbids.


     The same article also refers to the existence of staunch opposition within GOJ to a non-aggression pact that North Korea wishes to have with the United States.  It was expressed in an op-ed article in Washington Post by the President of Japanfs National Defense Academy (Masashi Nishihara, gNorth Koreafs Trojan Horse,h The Washington Post, August 14, 2003).  According to this group of GOJ officials, that kind of pact would undermine the alliance between the United States and Japan, whereas the mainstream thinking in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is that the pact would be acceptable so long as nuclear deterrence is kept intact.


     Although gfear-mongeringh is often seen among bureaucracies to justify themselves, captivity to the nuclear umbrella is characteristic to GOJ.  It has to be criticized, for by being captivated by the notion that Japan is privileged to be under the American nuclear umbrella, GOJ not only undermines its position on nuclear disarmament, but is virtually encouraging the United States to violate the Final Document adopted in the 2000 NPT Review Conference that include the so-called 13 practical steps for the implementation of Article VI.


     Although it is questionable how influential the Japanese ever were, GOJ is quite comfortable with the current declared policy of the United States, which assigns wider role to nuclear weapons other than deterring just the nuclear weapons of the adversary.  But this violates the principle of irreversibility, since it is clearly a retreat from the position in 1995, when all nuclear weapon states made a commitment not to use or threaten to use such weapons against non-nuclear parties to the NPT in the UN Security Council Resolution of April 11.  Moreover, it is a neglect of the clause from the 2000 Document that looks to the prospects for establishing glegally binding negative security assurances.h


  On its part, GOJ has repeatedly expressed the view, although in unofficial settings, that US nuclear deterrence is effective not only against nuclear weapons but also against other weapons of mass destruction.  This fixation to nuclear deterrence runs counter to another obligation from the 2000 Document, which is to assign a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies.


This I would call a psychopathological gfixationh because it is difficult to believe that solid strategic assessment is behind it.  It seems odd to many ordinary Japanese, but apparently it is deeply ingrained in certain quarters of Japanese foreign policy elites.


In order to overcome this fixation, I propose to reaffirm that the use of nuclear weapons is illegal and immoral.  In this vein, recalling the 1996 ICJfs advisory opinion, which also is stated in the Final Document of the 2000 NPT Review Conference, is important.  Reinvigorating the moral force of the society to delegitimize nuclear weapons is in the end the basis of practical progress in nuclear disarmament.  In this context, perils of radioactivity should be reaffirmed in order to have the authorities admit the human sufferings, which eventually should open ways to restrict depleted uranium shells.


The key question is whether and how it would be possible for GOJ to shift the foundation of its security policy from the traditional bilateral military arrangement with the United States toward a more multilateral or universal framework.  Among foreign policy elites, there is reluctance and even mistrust towards international organizations as the guarantor in maintaining peace and security.  For this very reason, building up on burgeoning international norms and establishing multilateralism in this part of the world is a challenge worth taking.  This region, as with the world society, has no future if we keep on relying primarily on force for security rather than pursuing the rule of law.


     Arms expenditure is on the rise in this region.  We need pressure and support from the public to have our governments strengthen international treaties and promote effective diplomacy in order to render MD and nuclear weapons as irrelevances that are too expensive.  It is too costly and dangerous to leave such irrelevances unchecked, all the more because it would ultimately erode our social moral structure.  We must pose questions now and stimulate public debates.  We NGOs have an important role to play in providing the public with more information about the nuclear peril and alternative ideas to overcome them.  I look forward to the discussions at this workshop.